A Boiler, the FBI and I

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  • In 1990 our company purchased the US Importing rights for the HS Tarm Boilers. The US company was named Tarm USA and our offices and warehouses were in Medford NJ. We maintained a full stock of boilers and parts as well as an 800 number (1-800-STAY-WARM).

    Picking up the phone one day, I was asked “Do you accept Purchase Orders?”. Most of our business was with the trade (billed or COD) or with end users (usually cc), so we’d had little experience with PO’s. As the conversation progressed, he informed me that he worked for the City of Baltimore and that they paid their bills promptly after the invoice was received and the equipment delivered. He stated that the boiler was for a ½ way house which the city was building for wayward youth - apparently the idea of them learning some self sufficiency was considered good for their rehabilitation. After a short discussion of his needs, he ordered the largest multi-fuel boiler we sold at the time - the Tarm 504.

    Our office soon received the purchase order and I called the City offices and was put through to the same gentleman who had called initially. He told me that the house was difficult to find, so we’d meet at a parking lot and then I could follow him there.

    The ride from Philadelphia to Baltimore went without a hitch. We met up and drove through some curvy roads to a small hilltop toward the western edge of the city - quite rural, with no other houses next door, etc. The home was a very large extended brick ranch with a full cellar and a large garage on one end.

    A Tarm 504 weighs in at over 1800 lbs, so care must be taken in delivery. In this case, the stairs to the basement were well inside the garage so I could not get my delivery truck near them. I unloaded the boiler outside the garage using the chain hoist and I-Beam built into our flatbed and, using pipes and rollers, moved it into position at the top of the concrete steps leading to the basement. In order to slow its progress down, I chained it back through an unfinished window hole on the opposite wall - and wrapped the chain around 4x4’s spanning on the outside of that opening. A come-along was installed so that once the boiler started down the stairs, I could control its descent inch by inch.

    Finally oak boards were laid on the steps and additional sheet metal plates on top - so the boiler could still ride the pipes down the stair. In 20 minutes of so, the boiler made it to the bottom. In such cases, the most important issue is safety - never let yourself get between the boiler and any other hard surface!

    After getting the boiler down, it still needed to be moved 100 feet or so across the rambling ranch basement. Pipes are too slow for this, so the boiler was placed on two large oak dollies and rolled into place. Getting 1800 lbs on and off these high dollies can be tough as you have to lean the boiler quite far over onto one side (boiler is long and thin) in order to get the first one in, then push the boiler up and slide the other one in with your foot. It took both of us to accomplish that task. Boiler in place, I got a signature on the invoice and headed back up to NJ.

    A week later the check arrived and I placed it in the pile to account for and to deposit, Before I could make it to the bank, I received a panicked phone call from my contact down in Baltimore asking me “Did you get the check?”. I applied in the affirmative and he told me not to deposit it - that accounts had gotten mixed up - and he would bring me another check up later that day. Sure enough, he came up and took that check and replaced it with another. I assumed this was the end of the story…..BUT….

    2 months later……

    I was sitting in my rear office thinking about getting some lunch, so I headed off through the showroom and out the front door of the shop. In the doorway I was met by 3 men in suits blocking my exit...one held up a badge and said “Craig Issod?” I nodded…”FBI, we’d like to talk to you. Can we all go into the back?”....

    I took a quick look out into the parking lot and saw a black government-issue sedan with MD license plates - one man was still sitting inside.

    To say I was freaked out is an understatement! These guys (FBI, States Attorney and Baltimore Detective) were physically blocking me and their tone and body language spelled “no habeus corpus here” to me. I quickly invited them to come back into my office, a tiny closet-sized affair which the four of us squeezed in. Now I really felt trapped...and almost sick.

    Their tone was accusatory as they started asking me questions about a certain boiler purchase and delivery. They pulled out a contact sheet with hundreds of pictures on it and asked me to identify each of the pictures as well as what I was doing. They had various angles and close-ups of the delivery - even though there was nothing in sight around where the house was! The only thing I can imagine is that they were inside a large dirt pile.

    Then they pulled out a list of phone records and grilled me about each phone call, the duration of same and exactly what was spoken about. This went on for about an hour after which one said “wait here” and went to the car to get the man who had been waiting there. When they brought the man in, they explained the whole situation to me. It turned out that the man who ordered the Tarm had been spending 10’s of thousands of dollars of city money to outfit HIS new house. The guy in the car as an office cohort of the perp and familiar with the phone records, conversation, methods, etc.

    Their mission was to find out if I, or any other of the vendors, were in on the deal. As they realized I was not, the atmosphere relaxed a bit and they asked about getting something to eat. I joined them at an upscale Tavern down on Main Street.

    The Baltimore Detective asked me how the heck I ever got that thing down there….he mentioned that now they’d have to get it out. I suggested that he contact a good rigger or skilled car wrecker because getting it up the stairs was going to be a bit more difficult than down.

    They parted company with the usual G-Man maxim “We’ll call you if we need you again”.

    I was relieved that I had dodged a bullet - I sensed they had the power and the inclination to take me with them if they didn't buy my story. In fact, the stress level was so high that I came down with a major bout of the flu the next day and was laid up for a week. Still, it beats jail.

    The story hit the papers soon afterwards, but corruption is so endemic in Baltimore and other places that I can’t find the story today in the archives.